Scope’s hopes for the 2016 Budget

Wednesday’s Budget will be George Osborne’s fifth set piece financial statement in the last 16 months. In this blog we look at the three key issues we hope the government will address: PIP and extra costs, disability employment, and social care.

A few weeks ago, the Chancellor said the UK economy is smaller than expected this year. On the Andrew Marr show he confirmed that he is looking to find additional savings equivalent to 50p in every £100 the government spends.

In the same interview the Chancellor also defended the Government’s decision to introduce new restrictions to the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessment, aimed at saving £1.2bn.

It is against this backdrop that the Chancellor will make his statement.

We will be looking closely at what the Budget will mean for disabled people in three key areas.

PIP and Extra costs

Last week – just days before the Budget – the Government announced new restrictions to the PIP assessment. These are expected to impact upon 640,000 people and the Government estimates that it will save £1.2bn.

This announcement was the result of a Government consultation which looked at how disabled people are awarded PIP for aids and appliances. Scope research shows that life costs more if you are disabled. Disabled people spend an average of £550 a month on disability related costs.

We’ve expressed our concern about the impact that these changes will have on disabled people who rely on PIP to help meet the extra costs of disability.

At the same time, the Government announced it is considering the case for long term reform of disability benefits and services.
We will be looking closely at what the Chancellor has to say about these plans. Any reforms must guarantee disabled people the support they need to live their lives.

We will also be looking for the Chancellor to take action to drive down the extra costs disabled people face. This was the focus of the Extra Costs Commission, an independent inquiry facilitated by Scope that reported last year.

In the run up to the one year anniversary of the ECC final report in June, we hope the Chancellor will be able to take forward ECC recommendations in his statement.

Disability employment

In the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement in November last year, he announced that 2016 would see a new ‘White Paper’ focused on how to support more disabled people into work and fulfill the Government’s commitment to halve the disability employment gap.

There is even greater pressure on the Government to deliver this since the Welfare Reform and Work Bill has all but completed its passage through Parliament, introducing a £30 per week cut in the rate of Employment Support Allowance (ESA) paid to disabled people who are in the Work Related Activity Group from April 2017.

Whilst the White Paper has yet to be published, he could be expected to give some further detail on how the £100 million fund for disability employment support (announced in the Chancellor’s last Budget) will be spent. We will also be watching for any more detail on the new Work and Health Programme, which is to be targeted at supporting disabled people to find work.

We will be looking to see if the Chancellor will set out how these funds will be effectively used and joined up to get disabled job seekers into work.

Social care

Social care was rightly a major area of focus for the Chancellor in his CSR statement. A third of social care users are working age disabled people, and they account for around half the social care budget. Social care has a vital role to play in enabling working age disabled people to live independently.

In the run up to the CSR, Scope published research on disabled people’s experiences of social care. Only 18 per cent of social care users said services consistently support them to live as independently as possible. 55 per cent said social care never supports their independence.

The Chancellor’s CSR announcements of a council tax precept that councils can charge to fund social care, and expansion of the Government’s Better Care Fund – to create better integration between health and social care, are therefore welcome. But, it is vital that the impact of this additional funding is properly monitored to see that the needs of working age disabled people are being met.

We will be live tweeting during the Chancellor’s statement, and look out for a further blog post on what is announced on Wednesday. 

Author with Down’s Syndrome talks about his first book

Marcus Sikora, who is 25, has just published his first book for children: Black Day: The Monster Rock Band. We caught up with Marcus and his mother, Mardra who collaborated with him on the project, to find out more.

Brad is a paper boy who wants to be a rock star, so when he discovers the band Black Day playing in old Professor Hammer’s garage, he really wants to join. But the band’s monsters have a different idea and send him away, “No humans!” Brad sets out to change their minds…

That’s the story line behind Black Day, an illustrated children’s book brought to life by 25-year-old Marcus and his mother, Mardra, after Marcus started imagining himself as the lead singer of a monster cover with website

“It started with the band,” Marcus explains.

“Years ago Marcus had a band in mind for himself called Gold Day,” says Mardra. “When he started talking about a band of monsters, who all lived in a house together, I asked him – ‘What’s the name of that band?’ and he said, ‘Black Day.’ I thought that was a perfect name!

Marcus and Mardra have been writing together for some time, setting Sundays aside to come up with new ideas for stories. But there was something about Black Day that kept bringing them back to it. “I knew there were some really great gems in this idea,” Mardra explains. “And more kept showing up as it developed.”

Working closely with the book’s illustrator, Noah Witchell, Marcus and Mardra spent over a year developing Black Day.  “Me and Mardra wrote the story,” says Marcus. “We all worked together. Noah and my drawings, then he animated himself.”

Mardra points out that everyone involved in the project followed Marcus’ lead. “It started with his great imaginative story, and Noah made sure to keep Marcus’ vision of the story and characters as a top priority,” she says.

Many of the characters in Black Day are based on people in Marcus’ own life. “I got Frankenstein based on Quinn (my dad), the drummer,” he says. “Brad also, Quinn’s best friend. And I’m the singer.

Peeking“Skeleton Pumpkin Head is my favourite. And my favorite part is, ‘This kid has a one track mind’.”

Skeleton Pumpkin Head is Marcus’ alter-ego, Mardra explains. “As with any story-teller, I can see Marcus in every character, but Skeleton Pumpkin Head is the one he identifies with the most.

Asked how he found the writing process, Marcus says, “Fast. Not hard.” Publishing is not for the faint of heart, but Marcus says it was worth all the hard work. “I love it when the people love the book so much. A lot!” he exclaims. He already has plans for a sequal. “Black Day Two through Five,” he says.

To celebrate Down’s Syndrome Awareness Week (20-26 March) we will be giving away a free copy of Black Day: The Monster Rock Band on our Twitter and Facebook. To enter, simply look out for the post and comment! 

(The prize draw closes on 26 March at 10am. The winners will be chosen at random after this date and notified via social media. Books can only be posted to addresses in the UK and no cash equivalent or alternative prizes will be offered. This prize draw is not associated with Facebook or Twitter).